More questions than answers for fair association

Jefferson County fair investigation underway, but unclear

PORT TOWNSEND — The Board of Trustees of the Jefferson County Fair Association has agreed to put itself under investigation, but members say they are not sure what they’re being investigated for.

The board agreed to the investigation during a contentious Feb. 9, meeting where members of the public criticized the body,saying it had neglected its duties.

Members of the board say the specifics of that accusation haven’t been made clear.

“They still haven’t come forward with what we are neglecting,” board president Don Pruitt said Friday. “When they do, we’ll be able to answer it.”

The call for an investigation came from Amber Jones, a building superintendent at the fairgrounds who also leases buildings there for her private business.

Jones said Thursday that the specifics of her concerns couldn’t be made public now.

“I really can’t do that at this point because of the protocols or internal expectations of how to deal with those topics,” Jones said.

“There’s an investigating committee that was elected at that meeting. They are working on the instructions that we have available for us,” she said.

”They’ll determine if it’s reasonable to move forward with the situation. If they determine there are reasonable concerns, then there’s a formal process for dealing with concerns of this type.”

The investigating committee has five members. Jones declined to give their names but said they were elected by a show of hands among those who attended the meeting.

Who can vote is another point of contention. The fair association is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that leases the fairgrounds from the county and has an enumerated Board of Trustees. But Jones said that anyone who attends a meeting is a board member and can vote.

She and the trustees disagree about the interpretation of the association’s bylaws which Pruitt said were written in 1952. According to Jones, the bylaws allow all members to vote and state that membership in the association is fairly open, including those in attendance at a meeting. Jones said there were over 60 association members at the meeting who voted for the investigating committee.

But trustee-at-large Linda Noble said the bylaws are superseded by the organization’s articles of incorporation with the State of Washington which were updated in 2020 and state that members do not have voting powers.

Pruitt said the bylaws are currently in the process of being updated in consultation with the county’s lawyers.

Both Noble and Pruitt said trustees agreed to the investigation.

“Essentially there is nothing to hide as far as the board is concerned,” Noble said. “The board voted to authorize Amber to proceed with her investigation, which from my perspective seems pretty dubious.”

The investigation only focuses on trustees that have been in their positions for more than six months, including Pruitt, Rita Hubbard, Lauri Hampton, Kristi Pimentel, Glenda Meek, Justin Clouse, Cheryl Pruitt and Kaye Bailey.

County Commissioner Kate Dean was at the Feb. 9 meeting but said Wednesday that the nature of the investigation was unclear.

Commissioners are not interested in weighing in on the investigation, Dean said, but do have concerns about governance at the fairgrounds and the breakdown of trust between the board and the public.

Dean met with trustees following the meeting and signed a memorandum of understanding that additional financial assistance would be provided but that commissioners would be more involved with creating a vision for the fairgrounds.

“The county is willing to help support the association more but we are also asking for more involvement in the association,” Dean said.

“For example, we talked about wanting to work with the fair board in creating a vision for the fairgrounds,” she said. “We would like to be involved in what are appropriate uses.”

Dean said she wasn’t concerned the investigation would imperil the 2023 Jefferson County Fair, which is the main responsibility of the fair association.

Pruitt said the Board of Trustees has provided all requested paperwork to the county and to the investigating committee.

Although Jones would not specify what prompted her call for an investigation, Pruitt and Noble speculated the conflict arose from the resignation of former fairgrounds manager Danny McEnerney, who resigned in December.

“Danny did a lot of great things,” Pruitt said. “He also would never consult the board or say ‘I’d like to do this.’ He’d say ‘I’ve already done it so now we have to pay for it.’ He didn’t feel that we were cooperating with his ideas.”

McEnerney said in an email that he has nothing to do with the current investigation.

At the meeting, Pruitt and Trustee Rita Hubbard said they would resign, but Pruitt said that decision was made in the heat of the moment in response to what felt like an attack on the board. Both Pruitt and Hubbard remain members of the board.

Jones said the investigating committee did not have a timeline for producing its findings but said that it should happen “within a reasonable amount of time.”

The committee has already met once, she said, but its meetings were not open to the public.

In declining to state the specific reasons behind the investigation, Jones said she wanted to give trustees an opportunity to respond to accusations

“It’s very much an internal situation. It’s me, a person on the board, talking to the other trustees and saying that I have a concern,” Jones said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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